Wednesday, December 19, 2007

AsiaMedia :: New press relations

AsiaMedia :: New press relations

'The Korea Herald' comments on whether or not Roh's pressroom policy would or should hold after the new administration steps in The Korea Herald Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Roh Moo-hyun administration's "program for improvement of the media-assistance system" was almost completed last week with the closure of the press rooms at the National Police Agency and the Ministry of National Defense. "Almost" because the media's resistance to the administration's forceful measures is continuing at these and other government offices, as evicted reporters are still writing their stories squatting in the lobbies of their old beats.

If the troublesome program, which was announced last May after years of escalating government-media disputes, is one of the key accomplishments of the present administration, the big question now is whether the next administration will keep it, in the face of resolute opposition by the media. Major presidential candidates have said in unison that they will "reconsider" the measure, if elected.

President Roh said his government "boarded the press rooms up" to make sure that they would not be reopened by the next administration. Large "unified briefing facilities" have been built in the integrated government complexes -- one in Sejongno and another in Gwacheon -- to replace the old press rooms which had existed inside individual government ministries and major administration agencies.

A return in 2008 to the old system would mean wasting a huge amount of taxpayers' money and a great deal of energy which should be directed toward more constructive projects. What is desirable at this time is for both the media and the political group which takes power next February -- as well as the existing bureaucracy -- to give deep thought to how to create the ideal working relationship of "criticism in trust," instead of the mudslinging which has been prevalent during the last five years under President Roh.

A new government-media relationship should reflect changes in the social and political milieu in this nation over the past few decades. The changes have been fast and profound -- from dictatorships to democracy, from a backward economy to industrialization and the world's leader in information technologies, and from a largely Confucian-based hierarchical society to less patriarchal, authoritarian values.

The media -- both journalists and managers -- should ask themselves if they have made sufficient adjustment to these transformations, in the routines of doing their job, in the methods of recruitment and promotion, in the internal system of corporate governance and in the way they look at the government.
Many outsiders feel that media outlets still lack corporate transparency, are exclusive in their hiring practices, and closed to mid-career recruiting, as well as being excessively protective of their own vested interests, and heavily dependent on government-supplied information. These assessments, however correct they may be, were magnified and used as fodder for the media policy of President Roh, who became quite antagonistic to the media during his relatively short and rugged political career.

Politicians regard the press as useful allies until they clinch power; then they try to keep reporters at a distance as they (a senior secretary to President Roh called them "hyenas") uncover corruption and incompetence in the government. Whoever becomes president in February will find the "new media-assistance system" that was established so laboriously by his predecessor to be quite convenient if he shares the political community's typical assessment of the press.

But the next leader, if he is to repair some of the damage of the past five years, needs first to fix the distorted relationship between the media and the government. The media should be willing to cooperate in making a fresh start by doing some soul-searching of its own to identify and work on whatever shortcomings it has.

Date Posted: 12/18/2007

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